July 24th, 2010
I kind of figured going in that Shabazz Palaces might end up TOTALLY RULING. And guess what, their sun-shrouded, mid-evening set TOTALLY RULED. It was the best thing I saw all day, and my day included U.S.F., Champagne Champagne, Mahjongg, and Holy Fuck. The mystical afro-centric output from these cloak-n-dagger rap wizards put his eminence (at this point, you have to use a word like that) Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler on full point in front of a full main stage crowd. People were overheard using exclamations like “Houdini” and “a modern Rick James” (probably due to the dark purple shirt unbuttoned halfway down Ish’s chest; FLY!). I wouldn’t necessarily advocate repeating those analogies to anyone, but I can understand their inception. If you’ve slept on Shabazz up until now, I highly suggest you rectify that because, with all due respect to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Vitamin D, the Blue Scholars or any other local hip-hoppers to make tall waves, Butler and his congo compadre Tendai Maraire have put such a magical and heretofore unfathomable spin on a tired genre, that it’s practically a crime if you don’t. High praise indeed, but it’s hard not be struck by Shabazz Palaces unique concoction of intelligent thuggery and wide, Central District-born worldviews, all presented with a modest Islamic militancy, window rattlin’ bass, and swirly, crazy-ass electro beats. I can only think of two other rap albums that I might place the 2 EPs Shabazz Palaces has produced before on my desert island hip-hop list (taste indicator: All Eyez On Me by Tupac and Life Is…Too Short by Too Short), and that wouldn’t even be a given at this point.
Ish’s voice did sound higher than normal (huffin’ that helium before his set?), which was mildly confusing/distracting, but the tightness of his cadence and the gravity of his mindset brought everything to the level. He seemed to fire more quickly than he does on record, and you could tell he was hyped, even if their stage presence in general seems subdued. It’s because they know they’re right. I can guarantee that the duo made many new fans yesterday. Local, deep-voiced Shabazz collaborator Dougie came onstage for his three cuts, and they even played three new songs, by my count. Below is the set closer, some clipped, stutter-step tech-weary commentary on all the automation we got goin’ on these days (visual ain’t so hot as the sun got in the way, but I find that fitting, no?). Enjoy.